Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

March 9, 2015

Conservative MPs quashed a Liberal motion to fast-track legislation on physician-assisted suicide Feb. 24 by a vote of 146-132.

Instead, the Tories indicated the government will undertake extensive consultations and still meet the one-year deadline set by the Supreme Court of Canada when it struck down the laws against assisted suicide Feb. 6.

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) executive director Alex Schadenberg said there is no time to get a bill through the House and the Senate before the next election.

Though the EPC hopes the government will invoke the notwithstanding clause to suspend the decision for five years, Schadenberg said there is a realistic prospect the government could ask the court for an extension of the one-year deadline in order to approve legislation that is as protective of vulnerable Canadians as possible.

"There are no safeguards in the end that will truly protect people," he said.

The Liberal motion would have required an all-party committee to examine the Supreme Court decision, begin consultations in March and present recommendations by the mid-summer.


The committee would also "consult with experts and Canadians" and "make recommendations for a legislative framework that will respect the Constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the priorities of Canada."

"For adults who are mentally competent but suffering grievous and irremediable medical conditions, the court ruled that the current prohibition in the Criminal Code infringes the right to life, liberty, and security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice," Liberal leader Justin Trudeau told the House.

Trudeau pointed out the Quebec National Assembly took four and a half years, including a full year of consultations, to craft its "medical aid in dying" legislation.

"The Supreme Court has given us 12 months, which is reasonable, but with the summer recess and the fall election, that gives barely more than 12 sitting weeks for us parliamentarians," he said.

"That gives us enough time to do this, but no time to waste."


Trudeau said he had a "strong opinion" on the issue because he was with his father when he died.

He warned doing nothing could leave Canada "without any laws governing physician-assisted death."

Polls show physician-assisted suicide is popular with Canadians, especially in Quebec.

The federal government, however, is focusing its efforts on anti-terrorism legislation that is similarly popular with voters.

Catholic and other groups have objected to the Supreme Court decision which stated that mentally competent adults who suffer intolerably and permanently from physical or psychological pain should have the right to a doctor's assistance if they wish to take their own lives.

The new regime would put physicians in the position of killers of their patients and there is concern that it would lead to the widespread abuses that have occurred in other jurisdictions that have legalized assisted suicide.

The provision that those with psychological pain could commit assisted suicide could, for example, enable the mentally ill or those suffering from depression to ask a physician to take their lives.


There is also a concern that over time, instead of being used in rare cases, assisted suicide would become increasingly prevalent.

Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, has said that helping someone commit suicide is neither an act of justice nor of mercy.

Letter to the Editor – 03/23/15